As promised, more content about traveling around Japan. Today we are going to examine how to get from Kyoto’s main train station to the Temple of the Golden Pavilion, or Kinkakuji. Most tourists will travel by train, so I thought this guide might be more useful to more people.
If you are an English speaker heading to Japan don’t be afraid! You are more than able to get around the country with some very basic or minimal Japanese language skills. The hardest part is that even though ticketing machines have English language options, the station stops or destinations may be written in Japanese. You can still do it! Here is how.
Welcome to Kyoto, Japan’s ancient capital. There are many major Buddhist Temples and Shinto Shrines around the city. Everything is very spread out and can be intimidating to navigate. I always recommend starting from a central location. For the purposes of this post, we are going to use the Kyoto train station as previously mentioned.
Traveling By Bus
The easiest and cheapest option is going to be the bus. The bus service is operated by the city of Kyoto and leaves from the North portion of the train station. On the image above, the buses are located to the bottom right hand side. The station will have signs written in both Japanese and English. Walk outside the door and look for stand number B3. You want to take number 205. The bus will have a destination in both English and Japanese of Kitaoji Bus Station via Kinkakuji Temple.
The total travel time is about 40 minutes. A ticket on this route will cost you about 250 Yen, but a day pass will run you only 500 Yen. Cut that cost in half if you are traveling with kids under the age of 12. Japanese buses are boarded like buses in Europe. You board in the back and exit the front. Fare is paid in exact change to the driver. The day passes do cover both the Kyoto City Bus and Kyoto Bus systems.
If you do not have exact change or want a day pass, the best place to go will be the Bus Information Center at Kyoto station outside the bus terminal. Almost everyone on the staff speaks both English and Japanese and can also help you figure out your bus routine options for the day.
Going back to the 205 bus, it is extremely important you do not get on the Express or Rapid bus! Both the regular and Rapid bus stop at the B3 stand. It will indicate the type of bus this on the front of it where the destination is Why don’t you want to take it? It doesn’t stop at Kinkuji. If you are not sure ask the driver. Just say “Kinkakuji?”
Another line you can take is the 101 line that will stop at stand B2. It has pretty much the same routing to Kinkakuji and will also take about 40 minutes to reach. Line 101 might be a better option if you are worried about missing your stop. Announcements on this line are in Japanese, English, Chinese and Korean. This bus is meant more for tourists than locals. I’d recommend this bus if you are nervous. Either the 205 or 101 will get you to your destination.
There are two competing major Japanese tour bus companies that offer guided tours and transportation to the temple: Sky Bus Tours and Keihan Tours. Both will cost you between 4000 and 5000 Yen per person and last between 4 and 4.5 hours. If you are planning to visit the Temple of Moving Water or Kiyomizudera on the same day, this is a good way to maximize your time.
Both bus companies have stands at the Kyoto Sightseeing Tourist Information Stand outside the North end of the station. You can look over brochures for both before you make a decision. The tour does include admission to both temples.It can seem a bit rushed and crowded with a big groups so I personally would go on my own, but look everything over before you make a decision.
The last option to consider if taking a taxi. Now drivers in Japan can be requested to speak English, but most of them will only speak Japanese. A good friend of mine used a map and had the destination written by the Tourist Stand in Japanese to show the driver. It is a much more expensive option than the bus and tour company, but if you are traveling in a group, might be worth a splurge. A taxi fare will range depending on the time of day, but is generally between 2000 and 2500 Yen one way. A regular taxi generally can accommodate up to 4 people.There is an excellent article here by the Kyoto Station website all about Japanese taxis.
Transportation in Kyoto is catered to tourists and is pretty user friendly. Be confident and don’t let any language barriers get you down. I do want to note that Uber and Lyft are available in Japan, but I would not recommend it. Again most drivers don’t speak English and it can be more than a taxi. Kinkakuji is one of my favorite places to visit. I’ll have a specific look at it in a future post. Add it to your list of places you should visit on your trip to Japan! Until net time, happy travels!